Essex zoning shows the gate to pet goats in backyard

The Baltimore Sun

Nanny and Samuel will have to move.

Baltimore County Zoning Commissioner William J. Wiseman III denied yesterday permission for the pygmy goats to continuing living in a backyard in Essex.

Robin and Kenneth Morrison, who kept the pair of goats as family pets, had sought an exception to zoning regulations that require property owners to have three acres for livestock. The couple's fenced backyard is about a tenth of an acre.

"I know you love these animals," Wiseman said during the hearing yesterday. But, he said, "it's not really a difficult decision. I am to enforce the regulations as they are written."

Wiseman said the couple had made a "good sentimental case" for being allowed to keep their pets, a breed that grows to about the size of a large German shepherd dog. But he said the Morrisons had failed to prove that zoning regulations were a hardship or that their property was unique in some way that should make the rules not applicable to them.

County law requires residents to have an acre for chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese, and three acres for smaller livestock, including sheep, goats, ponies and pigs. An exception is made for Vietnamese potbellied pigs.

Several neighbors testified during the hearing, saying that by feeding the goats, the Morrisons were adding to a rodent problem in the suburban neighborhood.

"This is not a personal issue," said Paul Marks, who lives nearby. "I think the Morrisons are nice folks. ... But there are consequences to feeding the waterfowl and goats. ... I think there's a reason why the county has its regulations."

Kenneth Morrison said he and his wife felt that the neighborhood's rodent problem had gotten better since he stopped feeding corn to the ducks that flock to the banks of the nearby Back River.

Robin Morrison told Wiseman, "They're like dogs, really. I keep it clean. I vacuum. I rake. They don't bark. They 'naa-a-a,' but they don't carry on."

She also presented a petition signed by other neighbors who have no objection to the goats. Some of them enjoy visiting the animals, she said.

The Morrisons got their first goat more than two years ago. They bought the second one as a companion to the first more than a year ago.

In the spring, the animals came to the attention of county officials, who issued a zoning violation and told the couple they had to seek a zoning variance to keep their goats.

Robin Morrison feeds the goats hay, grain and, occasionally, animal crackers and snack crackers, as treats. They sleep on a bed of hay in a shed in the backyard.

Wiseman agreed it was possible that the goats were being unfairly blamed for the rodent infestation. But he said that issue was not the reason for his ruling.

As a concession, Wiseman told the couple they could have three months from when he finishes writing the order to find a home for the goats.

The Morrisons - left visibly distraught by the ruling - declined to comment after the hearing.

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